How To Develop a Story Idea Into a Book

The following excerpt is from The Art of War For Writers by James Scott Bell. In the book, you’ll find exercises, tactics, and strategies for fiction writers. Today’s tip of the day is Tactic #27: Test your premise to prove it worthy.


Decide Your Book’s Premise

Editors and agents are all looking for the “same thing,” only “different.” That’s the elusive marketing angle that tells them: a) we can sell this because similar books have sold before; but b) there’s a freshness to it.

So how do you create this fusion?

It all starts with your premise. Which is another way of saying your big idea. When you come up with an idea for a novel, write it down in a dedicated file or document. Collect possible story ideas the way a kid might collect autumn leaves or sea shells. Whatever you think up, toss into a file.

Eventually, you’ll need to decide which premise you’re going to develop and turn into a book.

A Method For Testing Your Story Idea: Can It Sustain A Novel?

Sort through all of your ideas and choose the ones you like best. I put my favorite ideas into another file I call “Front Burner Concepts.” These are the ones I think have the most potential. I go over these frequently, rearranging the order, adding new ones, dropping others.

Then I have to get to the decision point. Which concept am I going to spend the next several months turning into a novel?

Try to push your “front burner” premises through the following filter.

  1. Is your Lead character someone you can see and hear? If not:
    • Cast the character. Really “see” him.
    • Do some dialogue where the Lead introduces himself to you.
  2. Does your Lead character have heroic qualities, either evident or potential? Define them.
  3. Who is the Opposition, and how is this character stronger than the Lead?
    1. How is “death overhanging”? (Is it physical, professional, psychological? All three?)
    2. Can you see a climactic battle, won by the Lead?
    3. Can you envision a possible inner journey?
      • Begin at the end. Because of the climactic action, how will the Lead grow?
      • Or, at the very least, consider this: What will the Lead have learned that is essential to his humanity?

      Example: At the end of Lethal Weapon…

Continue reading here!

2 thoughts on “How To Develop a Story Idea Into a Book

  1. Wow… this could be really helpful if I could ever work up the time or energy to even try to write a book. I think I’m so busy reading ones everyone else writes that I just haven’t bothered to even try…LOL I’m keeping this info though in case I change my mind! 😀

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